PORTLAND – Angus King will go to New York City next week to get fundraising help from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a fellow political independent who has already donated $500,000 to a group that hopes to propel King into the U.S. Senate.
Bloomberg will host King at his home in Manhattan Tuesday for an invitation-only fundraiser aimed at helping the former Maine governor raise campaign cash.
The trip and Bloomberg’s involvement are likely to intensify the debate over the influence of out-of-state interests that are funneling large sums of money into Maine in the national fight for control of the Senate. “It’s just such hypocrisy,” said David Sorensen, spokesman for the Maine Republican Party, because King has denounced out-of-state influence in the past.
Bloomberg’s name surfaced in connection with Maine’s Senate race last week, when Americans Elect, an organization that tried to create a bipartisan presidential ticket, acknowledged plans to spend more than $1.7 million on ads supporting King.
Americans Elect, a nonprofit organization, is not affiliated with the King campaign, but Republicans have accused the two of illegal coordination.
Bloomberg, the billionaire co-founder of the Bloomberg financial data-services company, has contributed $500,000 of the $1.75 million donated to Americans Elect so far.
Americans Elect stepped into Maine’s race at a critical time for King, who has been targeted for weeks with several million dollars’ worth of ads run by groups backing Republican candidate Charlie Summers.
Bloomberg “believes (King) will bring the kind of independent, nonpartisan leadership that is sorely lacking in Washington today,” said Marc LaVorgna, a spokesman for the mayor at New York City Hall.
In an interview this week, King said he has met Bloomberg twice, first at an event in Oklahoma in 2006 that brought together prominent politicians who were independent or known for their bipartisan approach.
King said his second meeting with Bloomberg came in July, at Bloomberg’s request, after King’s well-publicized entrance into Maine’s Senate race. The two met in New York for about 40 minutes. “I wanted to meet him,” King said. “He is one of the most prominent nonpartisan politicians in the country.”
King is the latest in a long list of candidates to receive Bloomberg’s support recently. Among the notable examples are Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Republican Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, both of whom are in tough re-election fights.
Dan Janison, a political columnist with New York Newsday, said Bloomberg typically backs candidates he knows personally or who are viewed as sharing his “middle of the road” political views. “He puts a lot (of emphasis) on personal relationships, and he likes to show himself to be an independent, anti-party kind of guy,” Janison said.
Bloomberg’s involvement in Maine’s Senate race generated national headlines last week. But the Maine Republican Party has focused most of its scrutiny on Americans Elect, most notably on the past involvement of Eliot Cutler.
Launched in 2010, Americans Elect reportedly spent about $20 million trying to build a bipartisan ticket for the 2012 elections. That effort was suspended in May after no single candidate emerged.
Cutler, a political independent who finished second in Maine’s 2010 gubernatorial election, served on the board of Americans Elect until the organization scrapped its 2012 presidential primary campaign. He is one of King’s state campaign chairmen.
That prompted the Maine Republican Party to file a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, alleging illegal coordination between the King campaign and Americans Elect. Representatives from both organizations have dismissed the allegations as attempted distractions.
Americans Elect spokeswoman Ileana Wachtel released a copy of Cutler’s resignation letter showing that he stepped down in late June. “Americans Elect did not conceive of or act on this effort to support the Angus King campaign until August 2012, and Eliot Cutler had nothing to do with this effort in any way,” Wachtel said.
Cutler isn’t the only connection between Americans Elect and King. The candidate worked with Peter Ackerman — co-founder of Americans Elect — on Unity08, a campaign to build a “unity ticket” for the 2008 presidential election.
Ackerman is one of the other two donors to Americans Elect’s independent expenditures supporting King. Federal Election Commission filings show that, like Bloomberg, he donated $500,000. John Burbank III, chief investment officer of the financial investment firm Passport Capital, donated $750,000. Crystal Canney, spokeswoman for the King campaign, said the candidate has met Ackerman three times and they have never discussed Americans Elect.
Similarly, Wachtel said the organization’s decision to support King was based solely on his vision and potential as an independent voice in Washington.
On Wednesday, the Maine Republican Party lodged a second official complaint, with the Internal Revenue Service, challenging Americans Elect’s 501(c)(4) nonprofit tax status.
The complaint accuses Americans Elect of violating laws that prohibit nonprofits from engaging in political activity as their primary purpose. “What this amounts to is taxpayer subsidy of the election of Angus King,” said Sorensen, the Maine Republican Party’s spokesman.
Wachtel said that while Americans Elect is supporting King, its “primary activity” remains attempting to open up the political process and ballot access to nonpartisan candidates.
“We are not in violation of any rules,” she said.
Wachtel and King’s campaign have accused Maine Republicans of trying to distract the public from the fact that Summers is trailing King in polls.
They also noted that — unlike the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other Republican-aligned groups that are running ads to help Summers — Bloomberg, Ackerman and Burbank opted to make their contributions public.
“At least we know where the money is coming from,” Canney said. “We still don’t know where the money is coming from in the U.S. Chamber ads.”
Washington Bureau Chief Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:
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